Some of the most glittering spectacles of Mardi Gras happen behind closed doors at grand balls thrown by krewes for their members and lucky guests. More than a hundred Carnival balls take place every year in New Orleans, beginning with the Twelfth Night Ball, held on Jan. 6, by the Twelfth Night Revelers. While most balls are invitation-only, a select few are open to the public.
Early Mardi Gras Balls
Mardi Gras balls have been around since Louisiana was a French colony. Just as we do today, Creole society kicked off the season on Twelfth Night with the King’s Ball (the Bal de Roi). The highlight of the evening was the cutting of the King Cake (the Gateau des Rois). According to tradition, whoever found the bean (the feve) would host the next ball. The balls would go on all season long, culminating in a great ball on Mardi Gras evening. The first krewe ballwas held in 1857 by the Mistick Krewe of Comus.
The Performing of the Tableaux
Tableaux are beautifully staged pageants that tell stories illustrating history and mythology. The final scene features a throne setting where the monarchs and the royal court are presented with a grand march. After the tableaux is dancing until the wee hours. Tableaux are still performed at more than 20 balls in the city today.
The End of an Era
For decades, one of the most popular ball venues in the city was the French Opera House on Bourbon and Toulouse streets. In 1920, when the building was lost in a fire, Lyle Saxon wrote in The Times-Picayune, “The opera house has gone in a blaze of horror and glory. There is a pall over the city; eyes are filled with tears and hearts are heavy. Old memories, tucked away in the dusty cobwebs of forgotten years, have come out like ghosts to dance in the last, ghastly Walpurgis ballet of flame . . . the heart of the old French Quarter has stopped beating.” Now balls are held in various locations around the city, including hotels, the convention center and even the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.